Orion Program Begins Splashdown Testing
September 29, 2012

Orion Splashdown Tests Performed At Langley Hydro Impact Basin

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April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

NASA recently completed a final series of water impact tests for the Orion spacecraft crew module using an 18,000-pound test article that mimics the size and weight of the Orion craft. The testing occurred in the Hydro Impact Basin at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA.

Langley's Hydro Impact Basin is located the Landing and Impact Research Facility (LandIR) testing complex. LandIR has been designated a national historical landmark and was originally built to train astronauts to land on the moon and for the Apollo astronauts to practice moonwalking. The Hydro Impact Basin is 115 feet long, 90 feet wide and 20 feet deep.

To account for various water landing scenarios at different velocities, with different parachute deployments, entry angles, wave heights and wind conditions the spacecraft might encounter when landing in the Pacific Ocean, the test vehicle was put through a campaign of swings and vertical drop simulations.

The next round of testing will use a full-scale model built to validate the flight vehicle's production processes and tools. It is scheduled to begin in late 2013.

The Orion spacecraft will be the most advanced spacecraft ever built. It is designed to carry astronauts farther into space than ever before. The first test flight, designated Exploration Flight Test 1, is scheduled for 2014. Orion will travel 15 times farther than the International Space Station — more than 3,600 miles into space — and reach speeds of more than 20,000 mph before returning to Earth.

This first test flight will be unmanned, launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to test the heat shield and parachutes at speeds generated during a return from deep space, among other systems.

Orion will be launched by NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), a heavy-lift rocket, in 2017. The SLS will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. The heavy-lift rocket is designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS will enable new missions of exploration and expand human presence in the solar system.